The increasing division on the left regarding BDS took center stage in the Illinois 2018 gubernatorial campaign when, on Sept. 6, candidate Sen. Daniel Biss (D-IL) announced that he had dropped 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa as a running mate.
While noting his support for a two-state solution and “a vision for the Middle East [that] must include political and economic freedom for the Palestinians,” Biss added that during an interview with Ramirez-Rosa, the alderman had similarly affirmed his support for a two-state solution and an opposition to BDS.
“Since we’ve announced his selection, we have been asked about his position on BDS,” Biss wrote in a statement. “After much discussion, it’s become clear that Carlos’ position has changed. While I respect his right to come to his own conclusions on the issue, it simply wasn’t the understanding we shared when I asked him to join the ticket.”
Biss and Wallace are among a significant group of Democratic candidates who smell blood on Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s hopes for a second term. They include businessman and philanthropist J.B. Pritzker, 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, and an anti-violence activist known as “Mr. CeaseFire,” Tio Hardiman.
Thus, Biss took a political risk in Ramirez-Rosa—a member of the Democratic Socialists of America who, at their 2017 Chicago convention, voted for BDS.
After the pick was announced, there was an immediate backlash. For GOP candidate Jeremy Wynes, it was fodder in his campaign to unseat Brad Schneider in Illinois’ 10th District who had endorsed Biss’ campaign. “Schneider has decided that what we need is an avowed Socialist to run state government,” Wynes stated. Schneider promptly withdrew his endorsement.
Ramirez-Rosa simply claimed that his difference of opinion regarding BDS was at a federal and not a state level.
On Sept. 8 Biss selected Rep. Litesa Wallace (IL. 67) as a replacement. For organizations that support BDS, the move was troubling. “It’s also really important for people who are fighting for a political cause to be able to express themselves,” Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Media Program Manager Naomi Dann said. “There’s been an increase in the efforts to combat BDS by pressing down on free speech which is really concerning and we can see that on both the state and federal level.”
Meanwhile, for Illinois voters who had been eying Biss as a promising candidate, emotions ran strong.
Dale Ginsburg has been a political activist for over half a century. “I have known Daniel Biss for many years and I feel there is no one more qualified to advance the important causes that our state needs,” she said. “His position on BDS and Israel is a testament to his principled and moral approach to this complex issue. There is no contradiction between being proudly progressive and believing that direct negotiations and engagement is the best path to our long-held desire for peace and a two-state solution.”
Lior Gates, no fan of Pritzker’s candidacy, was all set to support Biss “until I found out his running mate was an anti-Semite. Then I wasn’t. Now I’m on the fence.”
“I am grateful that [Biss] did the right thing in eliminating a racist from his campaign,” Gates continued. “Obviously I will be voting Democrat even if it’s an armadillo on the ticket but I need to see a little more from the Biss camp regarding Israel. How did this pick happen in the first place? Did he do it just because of the pushback? Where does Daniel Biss stand?”
Nellie Cotton describes herself as a Democrat because she wants Rauner gone and “there’s no other option.” She initially greeted Biss’ selection of Ramirez-Rosa with cautious optimism. “I was encouraged,” she said. “I thought that maybe Biss had seen the light and was more open to progressive politics.” Now she just sees Biss as a man with no integrity. “Everyone knows who Ramirez-Rosa is from the outset,” she said. “He’s openly gay, a Socialist. You know his views. So, it made me feel that he chose Ramirez-Rosa as some sort of token who was was used because [Biss] thought that he could get the Latino Millennial vote and lure the LGBTQ demographic. Then, pandering for the almighty dollar, he folded. I was very upset.”
Ultimately, Cotton reached a conclusion which has become synonymous with Illinois politics.
“It was all just a farce,” she said.